Thursday, 7 December 2006

Crime is not “Anti-social behaviour”

The BBC reported today (6 minutes and 10 seconds into the One O’clock News) that 55% of offenders are ignoring their Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), 35% repeatedly. Yet as the footage (6 minutes and 47 seconds) in the report demonstrates, the behaviour being exhibited may be anti-social, but it should not be being dealt with by using behaviour orders.

Breaking into cars; smashing window; throwing rocks at vehicles and passers by; theft: this is not “Anti-social behaviour”, it is crime. Children committing these kind of offences should be arrested and prosecuted. It is not necessary to send them to prison or a young offenders institute – adult prisons are already bulging with men who were given custodial sentences in their youth. But it is not enough to slap ASBOs on children who have been committing serious criminal offences.

Instead, they should be arrested, prosecuted, and then given community sentences. Hard, disciplined and valuable work to improve their local community – cleaning up litter, clearing graffiti – would be more effective than a paper ban on visiting the local park, and less likely to lead to further criminality than a custodial sentence. They should also be made to make recompense to the victims of their action, making them apologise to their victims and listen to how much distress they caused. Young offenders also need more effective social work and constructive activities. Most of all, they need to be given a sense of responsibility.

Shaun Bailey, a youth worker with the charity My Generation, whom the One O’clock News interviewed, was scathing of politicians attempts to understand the causes of crime: “‘Understanding the causes of crime’ is years long. We’ll never do it, because we live in a PC world where we can’t address our real issues… family breakdown, poor unemployment prospects, the fact that we live in a prevailing situation, now, that says that everybody’s a victim. Everybody’s a victim. Until we break that, we say to people ‘Actually, you need to raise your own personal standards’, then we’ll never deal with these problems.”

This is unexpected stuff from somebody who works closely with troubled children. Usually one associates youth workers with a mentality that blames structures and circumstances for criminality, rather than individuals and the choices they make. But Mr. Bailey is correct. While poverty, family breakdown and poor school performance present children with challenges, these do not in themselves cause anti-social or criminal behaviour. Many children do not turn to crime; some become leading lights in their community or go on to be very successful.

If we are to break the ‘cycles of deprivation’ that confront us, we certainly do need to tackle the problems of inner-city schools, urban blight, unemployment and youth poverty. But we also need to stop making excuses for the selfish and harmful choices that some people make. Individuals must take responsibility for their actions. It is essential that this is taught at an early age.

No comments: